Instead of capitalizing on the cause for national economic justice as an opportunity to unite the country, the progressive movement has grown increasingly identity-based in recent years.

The movement’s focus on marginalized identity groups has certainly been justified, given that many groups within our society — from Black Americans to the LGBTQ community to immigrants — have experienced stinging social injustice for centuries. It is well past time to equalize our society.

However, the progressive movement has a challenging path to navigate.

In particular, we must think critically about how to achieve long-overdue social justice in a fashion that is and that feels inclusive for all groups in society.

When we lose sight of unity and allow our social justice advocacy to drive polarization, we inevitably undermine the cause.

While recognizing the urgency of equality for historically marginalized groups, we cannot afford to alienate others in the process of pursuing justice — especially when some of those other individuals, such as rural Americans, may themselves be marginalized.

When we lose sight of unity and allow our social justice advocacy to drive polarization (unintentionally or otherwise), we inevitably undermine the cause.

Oftentimes, however, progressives have done just that, turning many people off from their movement.

Even if the progressive movement is generally on the morally correct side of social issues, its methods in achieving social justice have been flawed, even fatally so.

One core flaw has centered on the failure to foster positive perceptions of the progressive agenda among other citizens who may not consider themselves part of the progressive movement.

In shaping the perceptions of the general public, the language and framing used by progressive causes is pivotal — for all of the citizen audience members not only have unique life histories that have shaped their worldviews but also are unlikely to have as much knowledge on the issues at stake as those leading the cause.

For any cause, it is not enough to merely be “right.” That rightness must be perceived positively by the rest of society.

In other words, each of us in society has distinct perceptions, and those perceptions represent our own realities — regardless of whether these perceptions are objectively right or wrong.

Therefore, for any cause, it is not enough to merely be “right.” That rightness must be perceived positively by the rest of society.

Problematically, however, many citizens have perceived that progressive efforts to empower certain groups in our society will come at the cost of their own power.

These perceptions are especially prominent among marginalized groups like rural Americans, who — as described in Part II and Part III—do not feel represented by the progressive movement for a range of reasons.

Regardless of whether other social groups may be unlikely to become strong allies in a progressive cause, fostering positive public perception does not merely serve the purpose of converting political beliefs. The other core purpose of positive communication is to prevent the dreaded outcome that occurs when other citizens perceive a movement as antagonistic to their own welfare.

As a general point, however, any movement that fundamentally focuses on identity may have trouble avoiding negative public perceptions of its intentions.

These problems with public image are also related to the perceived exclusivity of the progressive movement.

Often, the progressive movement has appeared to focus on establishing moral purity — to the exclusion of citizens who do not subscribe to the same rigid set of beliefs. For example, a citizen who wanted to fight for economic and racial justice, but who opposed abortion, would likely have trouble finding a spot in the progressive coalition.

For the progressive movement, the demand for complete moral conformity leads to exclusion. This dynamic — which contains both pragmatic and moral flaws — ultimately leaves out key groups that could otherwise contribute their power to important social causes.

Ironically, it is in this fashion that the progressive movement often acts in antithesis to the moral value of inclusion that is a core progressive principle.

While the movement has fervently promoted diversity of identity, its exclusionary practices have appeared to discourage diversity of thought, leaving the progressive cause morally inconsistent.

To highlight an alternative approach to social change — togetherness — and to further elucidate the flaws of an identity-based movement, allow me to use diversity initiatives as an illustration.

Diversity programs play a crucial role in ensuring just representation for marginalized groups in key functions across our society. Nevertheless, many of these efforts have gone astray by leading to a greater emphasis on our differences than our commonalities.

Human diversity is indeed one of the most beautiful features of our species — one which we must celebrate for the unique viewpoints that each of us brings to life. But the emphatic drive for diversity — at times seemingly for the sake of diversity alone — has often left behind the lesson that we should celebrate our differences rather than celebrating the commonalities that we share in spite of those differences.

After all, it is not our differences, but rather the commonalities at the essence of our existence, that make us equal and provide the most powerful argument for a just society.

Even though many diversity initiatives seek social justice, the constant focus on difference, and the failure to properly ground such initiatives in our underlying shared humanity, has undermined the cause for justice.

After all, it is not our differences, but rather the commonalities at the essence of our existence, that make us equal and provide the most powerful argument for a just society.

Operating at the superficial level of identity rather than at a more fundamental humanistic level, diversity initiatives have also easily been coopted in the form of tokenism.

On matters of diversity, I am reminded of the words once told to me by a wise and dear friend from Uganda, the late Serwano Kaborgorwa: “Humanity often becomes preoccupied by heterogeneity rather than togetherness.”

Where there is heterogeneity, humanity tends to respond in one of two ways.

In the first, humanity reacts to heterogeneity by demanding uniformity. For example, those who cannot tolerate diversity — whether racial, ideological, or otherwise — begin with the aim to create a uniform society. Eventually, uniformity becomes exclusion, as the drive for a uniform society is used to exclude disfavored outgroups. Ultimately, exclusion becomes hate, propped up by false notions of superiority over the outgroups. Thus, the response of uniformity cowers in the face of heterogeneity by invoking superiority.

Thus, the response of uniformity cowers in the face of heterogeneity by invoking superiority.

In the second form of response, even if heterogeneity does not ultimately lead to the foregoing process that ends in hate, humanity simply becomes lost in concentration on heterogeneity itself.

This excessive focus on difference keeps humanity divided, inhibiting unifying remedies to the deeper social inequities that tend to accompany superficial heterogeneity in human societies. This dynamic applies, for example, to cases of tokenism.

It should be evident that the progressive movement has fallen victim to the trappings of heterogeneity and has lost sight of our commonalities.

Yet, the most beautiful and powerful message of diversity ought to be about our commonalities which transcend our differences.

When we recognize this fact, we discover the greatest human gift of them all: togetherness — the coalescence of many different individuals and groups, out of their common humanity, for a common cause, building power, together.

When the many voices of humanity sing in harmony, they produce the symphony that is togetherness.

Togetherness is the answer and the alternative to uniformity. Togetherness transcends heterogeneity by recognizing commonality. Togetherness combines all of our diverse perspectives and contributions into a unified whole. Togetherness recognizes that while we are different, we all share the universal bond of humanity.

When the many voices of humanity sing in dissonance, they produce the cacophony that is war. When the many voices of humanity sing in unison, they produce the solo that is suppression. But when the many voices of humanity sing in harmony, they produce the symphony that is togetherness.

Togetherness is both a process to create change and the outcome of that change. Togetherness is to say that one group’s power need not come at the expense of another’s — that we can lift all boats together, rather than lifting some and sinking others.

Togetherness is the answer and the alternative to uniformity. Togetherness transcends heterogeneity by recognizing commonality.

Although social justice often means empowering marginalized groups, we empower everyone in society when we further the cause of freedom for anyone. There is no zero-sum game; everyone gains freedom when their neighbors gain freedom as well.

In contrast, when we replace togetherness with more tribalistic approaches, social causes are bound to be perceived antagonistically by groups that feel unheard.

In this light, amidst our society’s focus on identity at the expense of togetherness, it is no surprise that white Americans, too, have begun to form the cultural expressions of an identity or minority group. As demographic change places white Americans on the path to becoming a minority themselves, and as cultural change has left much of white America behind, many white Americans have felt threatened, especially as their economic livelihoods also disappear.

As these structural changes have made working-class white Americans vulnerable to divisive ideologies, the progressive movement has simultaneously become hyper-focused on identity-based causes rather than universal solidarity, reinforcing the perception of white Americans that their power in society is being eroded.

For example, rather than interpreting the Black Lives Matter movement as an anti-racist movement, many white Americans have interpreted the movement as anti-white. This dynamic has allowed individuals like Stephen Miller to sell repulsive, fearmongering conspiracy theories claiming an impending white genocide.

To be clear, I am in no way blaming the progressive movement for these conspiracy theories.

However, the strategic decisions and rhetoric that we choose for the progressive cause often give actors with nefarious intentions, such as Miller, the fodder they need to peddle hateful ideologies, thereby exploiting the progressive movement to foment societal division.

Altogether, a demagogue cannot divide us independently. We must allow a demagogue to divide us.

In the U.S., underlying demographic changes in the country initially set our society on a dangerous course; the bountiful trees of our nation dropped seeds of division in our soil, some when we were not even looking. But our society’s tribalism in the face of the demographic change has only propelled us along the dangerous path.

By choosing tribalism over togetherness, we have opted to let the weeds spread.

Our choice has been either to remove the weeds that since invaded our land or to cultivate them with the water and fertilizer of tribalism so that they become a pervasive species that threatens us all. By choosing tribalism over togetherness, we have opted to let the weeds spread.

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Human, activist, scholar. Physician-Economist-in-training @UMich. CEO @proghealth. @FulbrightPrgrm Awardee. I work on anything that matters, locally & globally.

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Josh Greenberg

Josh Greenberg

Human, activist, scholar. Physician-Economist-in-training @UMich. CEO @proghealth. @FulbrightPrgrm Awardee. I work on anything that matters, locally & globally.

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